Is golf a sport? How does golf compare to other high-intensity sports, such as football or basketball? Are golfers really athletes? Let’s try to take a look at the facts.
Common arguments against golf as a sport are statements such as “anyone can play,” or “golf carts make it easy,” or “there isn’t real competition.”
If anyone says one of those phrases to you, feel free to look at them with complete confusion, and then reply, “what golf are you talking about?” because they clearly aren’t referring to the amazing display of sportsmanship and athleticism called “golf” that we know and love.
We’ll start with a purely semantic perspective and peek at the definition.
Definition of “Sport”:
Oxford: “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”
Merriam-Webster: “physical activity engaged in for pleasure”
Cambridge: “a game, competition, or similar activity, done for enjoyment or as a job, that takes physical effort and skill and is played or done by following particular rules”
Dictionary.com: “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.”
These definitions each lean toward the words “physical” and “competition” and “pleasure.” But how does golf fit these descriptions?
Physical Exertion and Skill:
Golf is not a sport one can simply “start playing.” It takes considerable amounts of practice and effort to become even an okay golfer, let alone a great one.
Golf requires distinct flexibility of the core as well as dexterity and muscle control. If you haven’t golfed, consider that many baseball players make great golfers. The twisting of the body and striking a small object with a stick is something the two have in common. Physical exertion is true of golf as well – many golfers experience strain on their backs and bodies after practice sessions and matches.
You’ve probably heard the statistic that golfers walk an average of 5 miles during 18 holes of golf, too. Now imagine yourself walking 5 miles with a 25-pound bag slung over your shoulder. It’s no walk in the park. Some people do choose to use golf carts, but many players opt to walk the courses and get that exercise.
Did you know that golf is an Olympic sport? And let’s not forget about the highly regarded PGA Tour and its vast number of competitions that make spectators hold their breaths with each and every shot.
If that alone isn’t enough to convince you that golf is competitive, consider the scoring used in golf. Although you only play with one to three other players at a time, your score competes against the score of each other individual that participates. That means Team vs. Team is replaced by You vs. Literally Everyone Else Playing.
And if that still isn’t enough to convince you, consider that every time you golf you’re competing against your past and future selves. Your next shot is a new opportunity for a PR. Each hole is a chance to par or to fail. Every game is a test to your handicap. The pressure on a golfer to hit well could be considered more intense than that of a batter or other comparable hitter, because you have to play the ball where it lands. If you hit one bad shot, it isn’t replaced by your next great one. In fact, it means your next shot has to be extra great in order to compensate. There is no clean slate.
Play for Pleasure:
This ties in with the accusation that “anyone can play golf.” Naysayers argue that because kids and seniors play golf, it’s not a “real sport.” Those people conveniently forget that anyone can play basketball or baseball or soccer. These sports are all played for enjoyment, among other competitive goals. Sure, there are “hobby” golfers. People who aren’t built like Dustin Johnson or Tiger Woods still go out for a round of 18. But that also applies to all of the other sports. People shoot hoops in the park, play in recreational baseball leagues, and use badminton cages at the gym. They aren’t pros either! Sports are not reserved for professionals. Everyone can enjoy and participate in sports, no matter their age or background.
If you outline these details to someone, but they continue to try to tell you that golf isn’t a sport, ask them to go golf 18 holes with you. Have them walk the course and carry their own clubs on their back. They’ll come around eventually – probably around hole number 7.